Israel Defense Forces tanks and bulldozers rumbled into the southern Gaza Strip early Wednesday, and Israeli aircraft struck a series of targets. One militant was killed and at least 14 Palestinians, including one civilian, were wounded in the fighting, according to witnesses and medical officials.

Palestinian witnesses said a total of 25 tanks and armored bulldozers entered Abassan, an area east of Khan Yunis, setting off battles with local militants.

Israel Air Force aircraft carried out at least four airstrikes, including one that struck a group of Palestinians who were using abandoned houses as cover, witnesses said.

A gunman of the Islamic Jihad group was killed and another group member was wounded, said Dr. Moaiya Hassanain of the Palestinian Health Ministry.

An earlier strike hit six members of the Hamas group, which rules the Gaza Strip. Three of the men were in critical condition, Hassanain said.

In that incident, Sami al-Najar, a resident of the area, said the militants were standing near a house and fired a rocket-propelled grenade toward a tank before the airstrike. He said some of the wounded were in the house and others were taken away in a private car that came under fire by the IDF troops. He also claimed the army fired at ambulances that came to the scene.

The army said it carried out two airstrikes to target gunmen near the troops.

Seven other Palestinians, all militants except one civilian, were wounded in two other airstrikes, Gaza medical officials said.

The IDF said the operation was aimed at militants in southern Gaza, and confirmed hitting a group of militants in an earlier airstrike.

The IDF frequently conducts raids and airstrikes in Gaza in an effort to prevent Palestinian militants from firing rockets into southern Israeli towns

Israel also has imposed a blockade on Gaza to pressure the area's Hamas rulers, whom it holds responsible for the rocket fire.

After months of fighting, Egypt has been trying to mediate a truce between Israel and Hamas. The Egyptian intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, is expected in Israel early next week to discuss his efforts, though it remains unclear whether he will be able to forge a deal.

Although both sides appear eager to halt the fighting, Hamas also wants Israel to end the blockade, which has caused widespread shortages of fuel and basic goods, and reopen Gaza's borders. Israel wants Hamas to release an Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian militants nearly two years ago.

While Israel battles Hamas in Gaza, it is conducting peace talks with the rival Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. The sides hope to reach a deal by the end of the year, though Israel has warned Abbas that it will not carry out an agreement until he regains control of Gaza.

The Palestinians want an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza - areas located on opposite sides of Israel.